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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

TMT VS PIOS: Space Versus Ocean

  • averse to large expenditures in space,
  • for there are only minimal economic benefits for  humanity,
  • and it just costs too much to do anything major in outer space.
The ocean, however:
  • is the next frontier of development for sustainable resources in  harmony with the marine environment, but
  • yet, space does provide a challenge to humanity, and limited tax funds should be spent on those efforts pushing the limits of knowledge to inspire future generations.

Mind you, some day, we will have sufficient resources or a desperate need to advance major space endeavors, but that will most probably be many centuries, if not millennia, away.  The Apollo Project was monumental, but only occurred because there was a Cold War.  It worked, we bankrupted the Soviet Union.

What is reasonable with respect to the budget?  Here are some cost figures:
  • The Middle East War:  $6 trillion ($6000 billion)
  • F35 Joint Strike Fighter:  $1.5 trillion ($1500 billion)...and worse, this plane is a lemon
  • Mars Project:  nearly $1 trillion ($1000 billion--$500 billion in 1989)
  • NASA Space Shuttle:  $200 billion
  • International Space Station:  $200 billion
Certainly, something like the International Space Station, which was lambasted by Astronaut Jim Lovell as "almost a white elephant," is not.  But something less than 1% of that $200 billion,  a monumental project costing a billion dollars or so that can someday make a huge positive difference for society, could be worthy and deserved of consideration.

Still alive is the James Webb Space Telescope, or Next Generation Space Telescope:
  • originated in 1996
  • 21 feet diameter
  • almost cancelled, but Congress set a maximum limit at $8 billion, which will, of course, be later augmented (original cost estimate:  $500 million)
  • possible operational year:  2018, twenty two years in planning (and, 2020 might be a better guess, if it gets launched at all)
Is a $10 billion outer space project worth it?  Debatable, but, heck, why not.  "Only' 5% the cost of the International Space Station.

Hawaii today will have a groundbreaking ceremony for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), expected to cost $1.3 billion to see close to the beginning of the origin of time, just after the Big Bang.  Perhaps the mystery of dark energy and dark matter can better be understood.   What we don't know is good enough for me.

But here is the problem.  The TMT was announced five years ago.  The approval process was interminable and continues.  A year later, in, 2010, the European Southern Observatory Council selected Cerro Amazones, Chile as the site of their FORTY (really, 39.3 meter diameter) METER TELESCOPE, called the European Extremely Large Telescope (EELT).  Construction began in June of this year.  Interestingly enough the projected cost is $1.3 billion, exactly the same, but capable of "seeing" 50% more.  The operational date is projected to be 2020, while that of the TMT, 2021.  Don't hold  your breath for either timeline.  

Below, the large dark green one is the EELT, while the light blue represents the TMT. The primary purpose?  To search for extrasolar planets, one of my passions.

Where is the better site?  EELT on Cerro Amazones is at 10,000 feet.  TMT on Mauna Kea is at 13,150 feet.  Getting to the top of that Chilean mountain from where you live will be a royal pain.  Not so bad for the TMT.  But they could have built the EELT at close to 18,500 feet, near the University of Tokyo Atacama Observatory at Cerro Chajntor in Chile

However, the problems with the TMT will continue in court for some time to come.  Imagine this headline occurring in Hawaii:

To further quote:

The top of a 3,000m-high (10,000ft) mountain in Chile has been blown up to make way for the world's largest optical and infrared telescope.  A million tonnes of rock were blasted in order to create a level surface on which to build the European-Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

But the greater frustration is:  Why build something significantly inferior for the same cost at the same time?  The USA is losing our scientific leadership role.  That Higgs Boson was detected in Europe.  The largest international fusion project is being constructed in France.  We hop on a Russian spacecraft to get to the International Space Station.  (If you can't read that cartoon, click on it.)

Well, okay, to be #2 is not terrible, so go ahead, for "only" $1.3 billion, build the TMT and hope for the best.  But isn't there something more promising we can also do?

Yes, the Pacific International Ocean Station (PIOS), estimated to cost $1.5 billion, has been advanced by Blue Revolution Hawaii:

Watch my presentation in San Francisco on PIOS.  Frankly, when we discussed the name of this facility I suggested Pacific Ocean International Station, or POI Station, which would have sounded a lot more Hawaiian.  In any case, for $1.5 billion, advocated is an OTEC-powered floating plantship for research and commercial development of our marine resources:
  • next generation fisheries
  • marine biomass plantations
  • freshwater and hydrogen production
  • remediation of global warming
  • prevention of hurricanes
  • floating cities
  • ...a cornucopia of ocean products, while enhancing the environment.
TMT began as a dream, originally funded by by a $200 million commitment by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.  This spurred governments to cost-match.  PIOS will not be funded by governments and industry.  It is awaiting the support of a a billionaire.  Certainly, projects are worthy.


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